I love fictional villains and morally ambiguous characters. What makes me sad, though, is how few of these characters tend to be female. It just doesn’t seem fair, since often, these characters are the most interesting. I thought we’d take a look, then, at some of my favorite ambiguous or villainous ladies on TV.
Irina Derevko, as played by Lena Olin on Alias
Oh, Irina. I was so obsessed with you back in the day. In season two of Alias, we were given the gift of SpyMommy, Sydney’s traitorous Russian spy of a mother. At first I was all set to hate her for breaking Jack’s heart and abandoning her family, but then…she was so fascinating. And badass. And beautiful. And entrancing. In seasons two and four, Irina was the perfect blend of regretful mother and manipulative bitch. So often in fiction, women can either be all good or all bad, and it’s lovely to see a woman who can’t be so easily pegged down. I don’t even want to talk about the finale. It DIDN’T HAPPEN.
Saffron/Bridget/Yolanda, as played by Christina Hendricks on Firefly
Gotta give it up for my namesake, of course. Saffron was only in two episodes, but she’s such a memorable character, no Firefly fan could forget her. Saffron can go from damsel in distress to queen bitch in a heartbeat, and woe to anyone who trusts her. What I love about Saffron is how she uses other people’s (usually men’s) expectations of women to throw them off guard. I so badly wish we could have seen more of her, because in “Trash,” she’s absolutely fascinating. She’s constantly playing parts, because that’s her philosophy, but doesn’t that mean that her amorality and manipulation are just an act, too? Who is Saffron? She’s awesome, that’s who she is.
Number Six, as played by Tricia Helfer on Battlestar Galactica
BSG is full of complex female characters, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the beautiful Cylon known as Number Six (or Caprica…or Gina…or Natalie). And I’ve realized it’s because of her smile. Tricia has this smile where she looks so gorgeous, but so damn scary at the same time. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. It almost feels pointless trying to classify anyone on this show as good or evil, so let’s just say that Six is as ambiguous as anyone else, but leaning towards the not-so-good side. The way she just wraps herself around Baltar, both literally and figuratively, is so elegant and terrifying and captivating. I’m a little in love with her. Who isn’t?
Lilah Morgan, as played by Stephanie Romanov on Angel
Lilah the evil lawyer just doesn’t care about your problems. She’s on her own side, and if the forces of evil are more helpful at the moment, then so be it. I love Lilah because she’s snarky and amoral, but also because she’s not over the top about it. She has style. Her relationship with Wesley in season four was so interesting, partly because it was a side of Wesley we’d never seen before, but it was also a new side to Lilah. She was kind of in love, and it made her more human and more vulnerable without ever losing the badassery we knew and loved.
Faith Lehane, as played by Eliza Dushku on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel
Faith was our anti-Buffy. She didn’t complain about being a Slayer—she relished it. And then she accidentally killed a guy and decided she didn’t care. (But we knew she did.) Faith’s path to villainy is so classic, so Darth Vadery, that of course, her path would ultimately lead to redemption. Faith has to go through it the hard way, falling to the bottom before she can work her way slowly back up.
Adelle Dewitt, as played by Olivia Williams on Dollhouse
One of the many reasons I want Dollhouse to continue for as many seasons as Fox will give it is to see where Adelle ends up. She’s the Lilah of Dollhouse, but she’s already a little more vulnerable. Adelle becomes more ambiguous as we go on. Her position as head of the Dollhouse and her cold exterior sides her with the bad guys, but…she’s so sad. And she does think (or she thinks she thinks) that she’s helping people, but she’s doing it such a shady way. What motivates Adelle? I want to know, dammit, and I won’t let this show go until we find out.